They are the standard for greatness for this generation of football, this generation’s Montana and Walsh. Despite their loss to the Giants in yesterday’s Super Bowl, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have won more Super Bowls than any of their active peers. They have not won a title in seven years, but that should not affect their legacy in today’s game.
In the 16 hours since Tom Brady’s final heave down field fell to the turf of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, there has been an outpouring of doubt, cynicism and, perhaps or because of, jealousy towards the Patriots. As a Jets fan, I have grown up hating and loving the Patriots. I’ve hated them, because of my affiliation with New York and a penchant for defeating the Jets nearly every time they play; loved them, because of their team first mentality, hard work, and a late-90’s Yankee Dynasty philosophy of dealing with egos, pressure and big games.
Sure, how Belichick left the Jets in 2000 was unprofessional. But Belichick did not choose poorly. He had far greater control in New England than he ever would have in New York, where Bill Parcells would have scrutinized every decision he made. Belichick’s system, which has produced five AFC titles in twelve seasons, requires a free flow of ideas and for football decisions to be made in a sort of democratic style.
He may be very wooden and statue-like at press conferences, but those who follow the coach know that Belichick creates the persona of not saying much to avoid any extra media attention surrounding his team and the distractions that the attention brings. Does that remind anyone of Derek Jeter? Away from the camera, in team meetings, with his family, Belichick has a personality. He is not a robot, just a man who has seen all too often what happens when the media and fans get sidetracked by a star or a story. He was the man in charge of the Cleveland Browns when the fans demanded Bernie Kosar be the starting quarterback despite his dwindling talent and having other quarterbacks on the team that could produce better numbers. He was Parcells’ defensive coordinator in New England when, at the beginning of Super Bowl week in 1997, the media got a hold of the story that Parcells would be leaving the team, win or lose, after the Super Bowl. Those sort of distractions took away from the time and preparation that coaches and player put into the game, and could not happen under Belichick’s regime.
So Belichick joined the Patriots in 2000, to work for a Patriots fan that befriended him during his days in New England, Robert Kraft. The two have formed nearly the perfect NFL marriage between owner and coach, with the two perfectly understanding each other’s view of football. Belichick and his staff of coaches and friends (such as longtime Patriots GM, now the Chiefs GM, Scott Pioli) created a list of characteristics that a perfect quarterback must have. That quarterback became Tom Brady.
Ironically, the words being used to describe Eli Manning in light of his second Super Bowl championship are the same words that were used to describe Tom Brady when he won his third championship in 2005. I was reading Ian O’Connor’s article on ESPN.com this morning, and the word association game started being played in my mind. “The calm, cool cat did what calm, cool cats do”, wrote O’Connor. Manning has quickly jumped into discussion for the best clutch quarterback in the game, usurping Brady’s decade-long hold of that title. Manning’s statistics may not say a whole lot, but what he does with the game on the line separates him from everyone else. Again, the same was said of Brady, before he was given a spread offense and weapons like Randy Moss and (a healthy) Rob Gronkowski.
We tend to think of Brady as this cocky, gunslinger that has a Rex Ryan mouth. All too much talk went into how Brady “guaranteed” a Super Bowl victory when at the Patriots pep rally prior to leaving for Indianapolis, Brady said “hopefully we can have an even bigger party next week”. Tom Brady has been anything but cocky over the course of his career. Sure, he may complain about officials not calling late hits against him, but remember that the Indianapolis Colts had rules changed in their favor when their wide receivers couldn’t run their routes without having a Patriots defensive back all over them. There’s a double standard in place. Compare the amount of nonsense that Rex Ryan has said in just three years of coaching to the amount of nonsense that Brady has said over a decade of being this generation’s greatest quarterback.
We can all admit that Brady and Belichick have found their kryptonite in Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning and the Giants defensive live. The Giants have reduced this decade’s dynasty into an ordinary team in both Super Bowl matches. But perhaps that’s just because the Giants match up extraordinarily well against the Patriots. Perhaps if the Patriots had faced another team in the Super Bowl, we would be remembering the Patriots for winning five Super Bowl championships in 12 seasons, and for having an unblemished mark of 19-0 in 2007. Every team has their nemesis. Just because the Giants have thwarted the Patriots twice in four years, does not take away from what the Patriots were or what they still are.
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